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Lesson 4. Writing Effective Free Response Essays Thanks to Keith Wood, Honors English and AP U.S. History Teacher, Murray High School, Murray, Utah Edited slightly to customize for VCHS students.

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Lesson 4

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Lesson 4

Lesson 4

Writing Effective Free Response Essays

Thanks to Keith Wood, Honors English and AP U.S. History Teacher, Murray High School, Murray, Utah

Edited slightly to customize for VCHS students


Lesson 4

Free response essays, in many ways, are the very heart of the AP exam. They measure your reasoning ability as well as your historical knowledge.

To succeed with these essays, you must understand the prompts, organize your information, and write a clear and accurate response.


Free response essay prompts put a lot of responsibility on the writer

Free response essay prompts put a lot of responsibility on the writer:

  • Some prompts are very open. Here is an example of this type of prompt:

    • The government under the Articles of Confederation has been considered a failure. Describe three actions of the Confederation government and explain how these actions may or may not be considered failures.


These prompts require you to define the terms specify the time period and understand the task

These prompts require you to define the terms, specify the time period, and understand the task.

  • For instance, read the prompt carefully:

    • The government under the Articles of Confederation has been considered a failure. Describe three actions of the Confederation government and explain how these actions may or may not be considered failures.

  • To address the prompt, the following questions must be answered:

    • What time period does this question address? [1781-1789]

    • What were 3 (no more) actions of the Confederation Congress that you are going to discuss?

    • How are you defining “failure” or “success”?


Some prompts provide clear time periods to be addressed

Some prompts provide clear time periods to be addressed:

  • For instance, here are two prompts that specify very clearly the time periods to be discussed:

    • Compare and contrast United States foreign policy after the First World War and after the Second World War. Consider the periods 1919-1928 and 1945-1950.

    • How did the African American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s address the failures of Reconstruction?


These prompts require you to limit your evidence and to define certain terms

These prompts require you to limit your evidence and to define certain terms.

  • With the first prompt–

    • Compare and contrast United States foreign policy after the First World War and after the Second World War. Consider the periods 1919-1928 and 1945-1950.

  • The following need clarifying

    • Deal only with foreign policy decisions

    • You need to pick decisions that are BOTH different and similar between the early and the later time periods.


Lesson 4

  • The next prompt–

    • How did the African American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s address the failures of Reconstruction?

  • Requires you to specify

    • Several “failures of Reconstruction”

      • Which implies that you know when Reconstruction occurred.

    • And to know several very specific results of the later Civil Rights movement that directly addressed the failures of Reconstruction.


Tip 1

Tip #1

  • Make sure you understand exactly your task, what you must “prove” in the essay.

  • Stay strictly within the time period. Don’t wander.

  • You must be specific, specific, specific.

  • Use relevant and time-sensitive PEPS (people, events, places, significance). Think of PEPS as proper nouns (words that need to be capitalized).

  • Never use generalities, i.e. many reforms, lots of reformers, many things changed.


Tip 2

Tip #2

  • Organize your thinking BEFORE you write.

  • This doesn’t need to be a long process

    • Decide two or three things you need to discuss,

    • Organize the facts you have under those headings,

    • Check through them to see that you “balance” the discussion—give each part of the topic equal discussion.


Outlines do not have to be formal just sketch a structure and put your facts into that structure

Outlines do not have to be formal, just sketch a structure and put your facts into that structure.

PEPS

PEPS

Social

PEPS

PEPS

PEPS

PEPS

Political

PEPS

PEPS

Economic

PEPS

PEPS

PEPS


Write with clarity and confidence don t be timid

Write with clarity and confidence– don’t be timid!

  • Be definite. Your thesis should ANSWER the prompt with your opinion.

  • Having brainstormed then organized specific facts, start each paragraph with a clear topic sentence.

  • Refer to specific facts to support your thinking. Stick to your structure, refer to your outline as you write.


Good writing is a problem solving situation work the process

Good writing is a problem-solving situation. Work the process!

  • After writing your thesis paragraph, go back and re-read the prompt.

  • Ask yourself, “Have I ‘answered’ the prompt with my thesis?”

  • What three or four points MUST you make to support your thesis. Write these down.

  • As you write, look back at the prompt and at your thesis. Are you sticking to the topic?


Plan your time so that you can read your essay before you finish

Plan your time so that you can read your essay before you finish.

  • Check the clock. Know how much time you have to produce the essay.

  • Check your thesis and your outline frequently.

  • Make sure that you have time to go back and read quickly through your essay.

  • Don’t ignore a conclusion paragraph. Sometimes it makes up for weaknesses earlier in the essay.


Lesson 4 summary

Lesson 4 Summary

  • Read the prompt completely more than once.

  • Know your task.

  • Write a thesis that addresses the prompt.

  • Write a general topic sentence to lead off each paragraph. (See notes page for this slide.)

  • Bespecific within your body paragraphs—use proper nouns (or PEPS). No generalizations.

  • Organize before writing.

  • Check your thesis and your outline as you write.

  • Leave time to read your essay before finishing.


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